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Yuka fires hot 7-under 64

It was one of those you just start laughing.

Yuka Saso reintroduced herself to the LPGA Tour with a blistering opening round of seven-under-par 64 for a share of the lead in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arizona Friday.

The 20-year-old Filipino-Japanese, whose world ranking has plummeted to No. 33, used her power off the tee and great ball striking to set up seven birdies, five of them coming in the last nine holes.

Saso is tied with Korean Jeongeun Lee5 and Americans Megan Khang, Ryann O’Toole and Lauren Coughlin.

After taking a one-week break, the back-nine starter Saso began and ended the opening nine with birdies.

She birdied 1, 2, 4, 7 and 8 coming home.

Averaging an astonishing 299 yards, Saso missed only two fairways and one green and needed only 28 putts.

Bianca Pagdanganan and Dottie Ardina are not in this week’s field.

O’Toole started hot and Kim Sei-young finished strong to join a group of six players on top.

America’s O’Toole exploded with six straight birdies from the second through seventh holes and finished with eight birdies in her 64.

“It was one of those you just start laughing,” O’Toole said of her big birdie burst. “As the fifth one poured in and the sixth one poured in I’m, like, ‘OK, I got it. I’m just going to keep going.’”

And she needed all the birdies she could get as the crowd got bigger atop the leaderboard.

South Korean Kim’s eight birdies included four straight at her last four holes, the sixth through the ninth.

“Pretty solid round today,” Kim said, adding that the soft greens made it possible to attack the pins. “I’m very happy with the strong finish today.”

The leading group in the 54-hole event also included Lee5 and Americans Khang and Coughlin.

Lee5 had seven birdies without a bogey while Khang had eight birdies and a bogey and Coughlin grabbed a share of the lead with a 28-foot eagle putt at the par-five 18th.

O’Toole, who returned from a month-long break to post a ninth-place finish at Portland last week, said her round could have been even better.

“I definitely felt like I left a lot out there still,” said O’Toole, who hit all 18 greens in regulation. “Eight birdies, but I still felt like there was a ton left out there, especially on the back side.”

Coughlin was in the first group off the tee on Friday and was warming up before it was really light.

The 29-year-old admitted she was nervous coming into the week which she entered 94th in the Race to the CME Globe with only three more full-field events remaining after the tournament.

While the top 60 in the race will qualify for the Tour Championship, for those ranked 85 to 110 the coming weeks are a battle to maintain their exempt status without having to go to the Q Series qualifier.

“I knew once I got in the groove of (the first round) it would go away,” she said of her nerves, “and it did.”

The leading bunch had a one-shot lead over Taiwan’s Vivian Hou and American Lilia Vu, with another six players a further stroke back.

With AFP report

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